M.I.A. – The Tarrasque

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on February 9, 2011

Orcus. Demogorgon. Lolth. All three are extremely powerful foes. They graces the covers of Monster Manual 1, 2 and 3 respectively. These are the elite, showcase monsters of 4e D&D. They are among the toughest that 4e D&D has to offer. Few other creatures are as powerful or dangerous as these three. Defeating any one of them demonstrates that your party truly is the best ever.

And don’t forget about dragons. They too deserve inclusion on any list of the most powerful creatures in D&D. A level 30+ dragon is certainly a suitable foe for the climax of any epic tier adventure.

And then there is the Tarrasque. As I was browsing through the Monster Manual (as I’m wanton to do from time to time) I stumbled across the entry for the Tarrasque completely by accident. As soon as I saw it, I read over its stat block and I realized that Tarrasque has been overshadowed in 4e D&D by the monsters I described above. The creature once agreeably the most powerful monster in any Monster Manual is suddenly a forgotten footnote.

Before 4e D&D many people, myself included, considered the Tarrasque the most powerful and destructive creature in the game (argue with me all you want, I’m sticking to my guns here). What made this monster so terrifying was that you couldn’t kill it in the traditional sense. With other monsters you could fight and fight and eventually it would die when it reached 0 hit points. Not so with the Tarrasque. You had to bring it well below 0 and then after specific conditions were met you had to cast Wish or Miracle (the most powerful spells in the game) to destroy it forever.

Now the Tarrasque is merely a level 30 solo brute. You don’t need to cast any special magic to keep it dead, you just have to hack away at its 1,420 hit points until it reaches 0. Then it disappears, returning to the centre of the earth to rest and regenerate over the course of years or decades. It’s still an extremely powerful creature, don’t get me wrong, but it’s no Orcus. It’s not even on par with a level 30 Dragon (in my opinion). The 95,000 XP you earn for defeating a Tarrasque is pretty much on par with the XP rewarded from previous editions of D&D, but the task in 4e doesn’t seem nearly as difficult.

So what happened to the Tarrasque? I think its notable absence from the spotlight is the first indicator that even the folks at Wizard of the Coast realize that the mighty Tarrasque has been considerably diminished. They didn’t even give it an entry under “T” in the Monster Manual. They hid it under Abomination in MM1. How are DMs supposed to consider using the Tarrasque in their campaign if they can’t even find it?

In a campaign from my teenage years the entire focus of our year-long adventure was to find and destroy the Tarrasque. When we learned that a Wish was required we had an entire side quest just to get the Wish spell. Of course, we also had to gain sufficient level to successfully cast said Wish spell. Looking at the 4e Tarrasque I just don’t see an adventuring party getting as worked up about the Tarrasque. Oh sure it’s powerful and destructive, but it just isn’t as 4e sexy as Orcus or a Dragon.

Perhaps the biggest reason the Tarrasque isn’t getting any real recognition these days is because there is no Wish spell in 4e D&D. You could create a “Banish Tarrasque” ritual and go on a quest to find the components, but again that just doesn’t sound as exciting now as it did in previous editions. The Tarrasque has been reduced (relatively speaking) to another hack and slash monster. Of course it always was a hack and slash monster, but the fact that killing it was all but impossibly made the fight interesting. Now it’s just another brute.

I look at the Tarrasque now and I liken it to an aging sports hero. When he was in his prime he was the one everyone focused on and talked about. But now he’s gotten older and a new group of heroes (or in this case, monsters) have risen to the top and are the focus of everyone’s attention. The Tarrasque is still tougher than most monsters, but he’s no longer number one.

What are your thoughts on the Tarrasque? Did you even realize he was in 4e D&D? Have you ever battled him? For those with memories of what the Tarrasque used to be, how do you feel about the 4e interpretation of this iconic creature? Does the Tarrasque deserve a spotlight or should we leave him buried in the Abomination section of the Monster Manual?

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{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Theeo123 February 9, 2011 at 9:23 am

I remember going out of my way to look for him when the first books came out. I was surprised at how easy it was to defeat him!

I mean, high AC, lots of HP etc. but the old tarasque, had special rules, most lower level magic simply bounced off him, there were a ton of special defenses listed that made DOING that damage more difficult than normal.

now he’s just a big dumb brute
Theeo123´s last blog post ..A nice new Recipe I found

2 Jacob Dieffenbach February 9, 2011 at 9:45 am

I think the most unfortunate part of the Tarrasque was that he got published in the Monster Manual rather than the Monster Manual 2 or 3.

Now, I’m not exactly a fan of the Tarrasque; I’d never run a party against it, at that level I always had bigger fish to fry (apocalyptic demons so massive and powerful they don’t get stat blocks, or just the gods themselves). But I can see its appeal. And to be fair, it’s now a level 30 solo brute; in order to fight it, _you must be ready to ascend to godhood or to pass into legend_. In 3.5 you had to be what, level 17? You still don’t even have 10th level spells yet. In comparison, the modern Tarrasque is incredibly tough: a DM should set up a campaign where he shows up at like level 20, and the party has to quest before they can be strong enough to even touch him.

But back to what I was saying: I think the problem is that Wizards wanted SO BADLY to not offend the player base by excluding the Tarrasque from the Monster Manual, that they threw it in even though they were still learning how to properly write monsters in their own system. They didn’t know how to balance regeneration or damage resistance, they didn’t know how many attacks and special abilities a solo should get, and while today any DM who’s kept up to date with 4E material could come up with great equivalents to the 3.5 or earlier abilities and truly create the feel of an invulnerable Tarrasque, when 4E just came out even Wizards wasn’t so adept. But, they had to include it in the Monster Manual because it was the Tarrasque, even though they probably knew they were inadequate; and when the opportunity to update it came out (the Monster Vault), they had the philosophy of ‘no super-boss monsters in the Vault; no orcus, no tarrasque, no demogorgan, just the basics.’

I might make it my project today to update the Tarrasque to 4E’s modern standards, then post it… even today, it will prove a challenge since the Tarrasque was so entrenched in Wish and similarly previous-era effects, but definitely 4E as a system has matured enough that it can handle the monster better than ever before.

3 Mike February 9, 2011 at 9:58 am

I built a rebuild of the Tarrasque for my home campaign. It worked out pretty well:

http://slyflourish.com/monster-optimization-pimp-my-tarrasque/
Mike´s last blog post ..A New DM’s Guide to Keeping Things Simple

4 Tourq February 9, 2011 at 10:07 am

In truth, I’ve never seen the Terrasque until 4e came out. By then I was wondering where such a powerful brute wouldactually fit in D&D. Not knowing anything about this creature, I thought it was just filler. Perhaps there were enough bad asses in 4E that they thought he needed to take a back seat? I don’t know.
Tourq´s last blog post ..Playing with Fate- Your “Defining Aspect”

5 callin February 9, 2011 at 10:47 am

He is boring.
Orcus, Demogorgon, Lolth are all intelligent. They have minions. A fight with them involves getting to them first past all their minions, guards, lieutenants, traps, tricks, etc.
Tarrasque is nothing but an exchange of hit points.
callin´s last blog post ..Demonic Traits

6 Alton February 9, 2011 at 11:05 am

I personally think that 4th has things to reconsider about some monsters. Some monsters were never meant to be fought. The Tarrasque is one of them. It was a legend. I only thought of bringing this abomination into my campaign as a reason to quest (IE the players catch wind of the imminent rising of the Tarrasque and have to mount the evacuation of a whole continent.) He is known to be an unstoppable killing machine and should remain that way. The monster in 4th is all wrong, size, threat, powers. I am not so sure but I think that even the gods in the old editions feared the Tarrasque.

I would be very upset if someone would have put my party up against something like this in the old Editions. Now, the Tarrasque is no longer a threat, but a monster to slay. It no longer has that feel to him from the other Editions. IMO.
Alton´s last blog post ..D&ampD Encounters Season 4- March of the Phantom Brigade

7 Alric February 9, 2011 at 11:17 am

You’ve earned my respect by coining the phrase, “4e sexy.” Brilliant, that.
Alric´s last blog post ..Five tips for villainous resource management

8 Kensan_Oni February 9, 2011 at 11:53 am

I remember a conversation i had with my old game group, where the number crunchers had figured that a 17th level party could defeat about 4 Tarrasques… under 3rd Edition.

Overall… I always thought Tarrasques were lame. Some kinda boogie monster that came from the Forgotten Realms, and it could just be forgotten. I still don’t like the idea of a Giant Godzilla creature in D&D. However, I think that part of the problem with the Tarrasque in 4E is the same problem that people have with Rituals in 4E. They don’t know how to properly use them.

It’s not that a Terrasque is just a bag of hit points. I mean, sure it is, but that’s not how you get to FIGHT the big bag of hit points. No. In order to even fight the thing, you need to quest to remove it’s immortality field. In order to do that, you gotta go to the five temples and destroy the crystals that keep it in check. One Floats in the Astral Sea, One survives in the Elemental Chaos, one glows in the Feywild, one hides in the Shadowrfell, and one resides at the highest peaks of the World.

Meanwhile, the Tarrasque is going around and attacking everything, and destroying kingdoms. The players can face off against it, yes, but their magics have no effect, the wounds heal quickly, and while they can kill the person who awoke the Tarrasque, they can’t stop it without completing the quest first.

That is how you use a Tarrasque and highlight it in a game. Not just “A random threat”, but as a keystone for a series of quests to stop the thing.

9 Ameron February 9, 2011 at 1:05 pm

@Theeo123
I felt exactly the same way when I read his stats earlier this week. Something was clearly missing. The Tarrasque didn’t seem nearly as unique or scary any more.

@Jacob Dieffenbach
I never thought about it that way, but it makes sense. If the Tarrasque was saved for a later MM I wonder just how different he’d look?

@Mike
Your updated Tarrasque is awesome. I strongly encourage everyone to a) check out Mike’s revised build, and b) add Sly Flourish to your feed reader. This is just another example of why your site is among the best D&D sites out there today. Thanks for sharing.

@Tourq
This is exactly the point I was trying to make in my article. If your first exposure to the Tarrasque is in the 4e MM then you aren’t getting the wow factor that we got in previous editions. One of the previous legends from MM’s of past editions is reduced to a bag of hit points in 4e.

@callin
I agree that a straight up fight against the Tarrasque (as he appears in 4e) would be a boring exchange of hit points. Sure the other monsters mentioned are highly intelligent and use minions and tactics. However, I believe that the very lack of these things could make the Tarrasque interesting, if he was a little bit more fleshed out as a monster. It wouldn’t even be the actual fight against the Tarrasque that would be the highlight of the encounter, but the preparation required to discover his weaknesses, exploit them, and then permanently kill him. Knowing that the Tarrasque is simply one big bad monster leaves plenty of room for the PCs to optimize their own tactics. But again I know that a lot of players would not want to have this fight because it is likely to be a very long and repetitive combat. I guess it’s all in how the players choose to approach it.

@Alton
I never though of the Tarrasque as the monster you don’t actually fight. Merely the threat of his existence and the possibility of his destructive rampage would be enough to motivate heroes to ensure he never wakes up. I like it. And I agree that in 4e this doesn’t carry the same urgency since the PCs could just eat through its hit points and kill it if it came right down to it.

@Alric
You like that one, do you. Thanks. It just seemed like the appropriate description for the point I was making. I’ll have to try and find ways to use it again.

@Kensan_Oni
Now this is an adventure I want to play. You make an excellent point and use a fantastic example of how to accomplish it. Great job.

10 Jacob Dieffenbach February 9, 2011 at 1:28 pm

I tried my hand at updating the Tarrasque. Here’s the design philosophies I took, step by step.

First, I never considered making it a mortal creature. But you’re right in your article: the lack of a Wish spell really puts a crimp on things, and even a Ritual doesn’t feel right. So I immediately decided to write up the Ring of Three Wishes as a minor artifact. If I were running a Tarrasque campaign, the entire campaign would revolve not around fighting the Tarrasque or leveling up, but around finding an artifact which could cast Wish (and after all, even in 3.5, unless you had a wizard or even if you did, getting Wish was your #1 priority before fighting the Tarrasque.)

It’s a powerful artifact, but what I enjoy most about it is it’s a consumable artifact: it might start with only one wish on it, and you have to save it only for killing the Tarrasque, and if you let it slip into a villain’s hands for even a single round, the wish gets used up and you lose the campaign. Or maybe it has three wishes on it, and the party can either save them as their own personal Deus Ex Machina, or be greedy and set themselves up as super-powerful and super-rich, all while saving the last wish for the Tarrasque.

There’s a lot of potential in this artifact. I like it.

Anyway. I went to the Tarrasque and rebuilt him from the ground up. First, I don’t like that he’s a brute in 4E; one of the Tarrasque’s most terrifying and, more importantly, unique abilities is that once every 10 rounds, he can move 150 feet. Plus, he just seems like a monster which can trample and step OVER the PCs he’s fighting. He’s a very mobile monster, in spite of his speed 4, so skirmisher it was.

Regeneration was the first ability I wrote, simply imitating the troll regeneration with no cancellation effect except for a specific mention of the ring of three wishes.

Carapace, the only other ability which made the Tarrasque unique in 3.5, was hard to balance and I’m still not sure if it’s good. Basically, any spellcaster who misses with an attack against him has a chance of hitting THEMSELF instead, no matter the range. But that’s such a low probability (less than 30% per attack chance of hitting yourself) that I don’t think it’ll be too dramatically inconvenient.

Everything else was just filling out his requisite abilities. Devour Whole from the purple worm, a standard bite which could grab, a trample move action so he can stomp around freely, a rechargeable trample which can move up to 30 squares, and the standard solo abilities: make attacks while stunned/dominated, recharge and use your limited ability when bloodied, and constantly be making free attacks against people near you.

I think the end result is exactly what some people on this post have described as their idealized Tarrasque: something that is completely unbeatable, and even if you have the artifact required to suppress its regeneration for a single round, it’s still impossibly tough on the level with a minor god. The campaign shifts from being about “Find Tarrasque. Keep hitting it until it reaches 0 hp” to “Avoid Tarrasque. Let it rampage for a few weeks while we gather artifacts and strength to beat it. Find its lair, wake it up, kill it.” which seems like a lot more fun.

I spent quite a bit of time making sure it was balanced against other solo monsters of its level, so TECHNICALLY once you have the ring it’s almost a fair fight for a level 30 solo. And at THAT point, it becomes a sack of hit points to empty–but, at the very least, it’s a resilient, powerful sack of hit points which should make for a very interesting fight requiring a huge battle mat and lots of planning (hint: Sorcerer, don’t cast any spells which deal more damage than you have hit points)

Link! http://www.mediafire.com/?qeopgwhqwa71q60

11 BrianLiberge February 9, 2011 at 2:11 pm

I like the earlier versions of the Tarrasque, and like many others, find the 4th edition version lacking. It player very prominently in my 3e epic level campaign (being used as a weapon at times) and I would bet my players will eventually seek it out, or at least want to know more about it.

I’ll do what others have and update the stat block till its a bit more legendary.
BrianLiberge´s last blog post ..Blackscale Tribal Fury – Steal this Monster

12 Shane February 9, 2011 at 3:43 pm

Jacob: This is awesome. Good job.

13 Camelot February 9, 2011 at 4:03 pm

I’ve had this discussion before somewhere on the internet, but I’ll say it again.

The Tarrasque is an awesome concept. A great beast locked in the earth, and only you can defeat it…Why do you think Godzilla was so popular? But yeah, the 4e version is lame. I’d not only use a newified version if it (like Sly Flourish’s), but I’d have *4* newified versions, each of a different role (brute, controller, skirmisher, soldiers)…and each would be a different leg of the beast! The heroes would have to go through these 4 encounters with barely a short rest in between (failing a skill challenge means you get little benefit from a short rest), and then once the beast collapses, they’d have to go through another skill challenge to literally climb up the beast’s immense back (I imagine it being the size of a small mountain, think Shadow of the Collosus) and perform a ritual on its head while holding on. Only then can you send the beast back to the earth.

I think that 9 encounters just to defeat one monster would put the Tarrasque back in its rightful place!
Camelot´s last blog post ..Spellspinner Path

14 Acheron February 10, 2011 at 10:39 am

Lol, seems everyone is still very fond of the old god-slaying-player-killer machine… Yeah I like a lot the ideas of this place i believe that the search for the crystals to destroy his Inmortality sounds very good, and plenty of other ideas are very good to give them a try, good post man, and nice comments ppl, keep it rolling!!

Regards

15 Santiago Acosta October 11, 2012 at 7:18 pm

In 3.5 a fly spell made you entirely invulnerable to the tarrasque.

So… No, it wasn’t really an “interesting” encounter when a single lvl 5 spell (mass fly, from the complete arcane) makes the entire encounter pointless.

The tarrasque can’t even escape from you, since you fly at 40′ with heavy armor, and the tarrasque moves at 20′.

So… yeah, quite boring.

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